In truth, it was the hurling Qualifier draw on Monday morning most feared by Westmeath Gaels – all still emotionally shattered after the footballers’ annihilation at the hands of Dublin just 15 hours earlier.
Life in the world of Gaelic games does not much tougher than this for a county with very little tangible success in either code, with a trip to Tipp next weekend meaning successive away fixtures against the Sam Maguire Cup and Liam McCarthy Cup holders for our footballers and hurlers respectively.
Both bainisteoirs in Semple Stadium will be called Michael Ryan. The blue and gold-clad man will take charge of unbackable favourites, but his maroon and white-clad rival was reasonably upbeat when he spoke to this columnist a little over an hour after the draw yesterday morning.
The Waterford native was typically forthright in assessing the gigantic task which awaits in what is often called ‘the home of hurling’. He opined: “Galway are supposed to be favourites for the All-Ireland but I think the team that beats Tipp will win it.
“There’s no point in losing sleep over it as there is nothing we can do about it. Our best bet now is to concentrate on the performance, play as well as we can and forget about the scoreboard.
“We will have to fight for every ball and work really, really hard and see where that takes us. We have a lot of good hurlers in our team and this year we haven’t had a lot of breaks, but there is no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We are in a big game against Tipperary and there is a lot of pride at stake. We have to get on with it.”
Ryan confirmed that he was happy with what he saw in the three challenge matches played since his troops exited the Leinster championship in unfortunate and ultra-dramatic circumstances against Offaly in TEG Cusack Park, stating: “We played very well against Dublin and they only beat us by a couple of points up in Parnell Park. We also had very useful games against our own U21s and the Laois seniors.”
He was pleased to announce that Liam Varley “is back and playing well”. Niall Mitchell’s fine display for the U21s against Kilkenny is another plus for the flagship team. However, Eoin Price has taken the rest of the year off and Tommy Gallagher is on the injured list.
“We need all hands on deck. We will train on Tuesday and Thursday this week. We are not going to set a target. We will try to play as well as we can and do ourselves justice. I hope fans will travel and give our lads decent support. It is a big game for them playing the All-Ireland champions,” Ryan concluded.
Astonishingly, the last two competitive games between the counties both resulted in seven-point wins for Westmeath in Mullingar, albeit at a time that Tipp were going through a ‘famine’ period, alluded to famously by Richie Stakelum when he collected the Munster trophy in 1987 after a painful 16-year wait for a hurling-obsessed county.
Pat Fox has been quoted as saying that the worst roasting he ever got in a Tipp jersey was when he was cleaned out by Michael Cosgrove when the Premier County legend lined out at corner back in 1985. Familiar names such as ‘Greville’ and ‘Doyle’ will form a link between two very different eras for Westmeath hurling.
The Westmeath teams and scorers on those marvellous occasions were as follows:
2/10/83, Cusack Park, Westmeath 5-12 Tipperary 3-11
Sean Greville, Noel Fitzsimons, Tommy Doyle, Pat O'Brien, Ray Gavin, Walter Burke, Willie Shanley, Ger Jackson, Micheal Daly (1-0), Matt Kennedy (0-1), David Kilcoyne (0-7), Eamonn Gallagher (1-0), Michael Cosgrove (1-1), Jimmy Fitzsimons (2-1), Michael Kilcoyne (0-2).
3/11/85, Cusack Park, Westmeath 1-18 Tipperary 1-11
Sean Greville, Noel Fitzsimons, Tommy Doyle, Mick Murtagh, Gerry Daly, Richie Shaw, Martin Hickey (0-1), James Kilcoyne, Michael Kilcoyne (0-2), Pat Clancy (0-1), Dinny McCormack (0-1), Sean Kilcoyne (0-1), David Kilcoyne (1-8), Eamonn Gallagher (0-1), Michael Cosgrove (0-3). Sub: Brian McCabe (for Daly).